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Domestic abuse might seem personal. But it harms the whole community
August 4, 2016

View from behind of woman sitting on bed, looking out window (© AP Images)
A domestic violence victim takes refuge at a California safe house. (© AP Images)

Women who face beatings or other forms of domestic violence typically have only three choices: They can fight back, and likely face a worse beating; they can submit; or they can leave — if there’s someone they can turn to and somewhere they can go.

Helping such women is Rose Thelen’s cause. She’s fought domestic violence for more than three decades and heads the Gender Violence Institute in Minnesota. There she advocates for laws that empower victims to seek justice and for useful services, such as telephone hotlines that allow victims to report abuse.

Women are “overwhelmingly the victims” of battering or domestic violence, Thelen says. The violence “is usually ongoing and can lead to serious injury and death.” But she said additional victims can include children, the health care system, the criminal justice system, businesses, families, friends, and society.

And violence is not the only cost. Add in greater health care and legal expenses. And lost productivity. And, most fundamentally, every contribution that battered women could have made to the moral, social and political fabric of their nations.

Shelters and telephone hotlines are important first steps. Hotlines, Thelen says, link women to the help they need and, by providing information about the scope of the problem, help advocates argue for additional steps to address the violence.

Protect the victim. But also deter the abuser.

Providing a victim with refuge and services to rebuild her life is only half of the solution, Thelen says. The abuser must be deterred.
Because most abusers employ violence to assert power and control over their victims, the community response must deprive the abuser of those perceived “benefits.” Thelen recommends laws that do these things:

  • Make domestic violence a crime.
  • Allow courts to forbid abusers from even approaching their victims.
  • Consider, in divorce and child-custody cases, the impact that past abuse has on the child as well as the adult victim.

Thelen similarly calls on police and the courts to improve how they assess, investigate and prosecute domestic-abuse cases.

The goal: Shift responsibility for ending the violence from the victim, who is least able to stop it, to police, courts, and the community itself.

Thelen concludes that men must be part of the solution: “I think we will see rapid societal changes as more men … say it is no longer okay to abuse the woman you love.”